Alton Rugby Football Club

Determined Alton Hold Off New Milton Fightback

Sat 16 Jan 2010, 14:15

New Milton

12 - 20


Alton survive New Milton fightback to notch their eleventh win and retain the leadership of Hampshire One.

A decent enough encounter, open and occasionally dramatic, and one more game that Alton will be pleased to have put away in the file marked 'win'.

And having played just once in five weeks and not trained for the last two, a ten-point win on the road is worth more than any 50-point canter at Anstey Park.

Mid-table New Milton, who had lost their last four games on the bounce coming into Saturday's Ashley Road meeting, performed valiantly and caused Alton enough moments of discomfort to ensure the outcome was still in doubt up until the final whistle. The fat lady had to endure a long wait.

One statistical quirk is that all four tries were scored by props; indeed, Watkyn Lewis' conversion of Gary Brookes' second-half try was the sole points contribution by a three-quarter.

Lewis' kick was important as it brought New Milton to within a converted try of Alton with a quarter of an hour left, but the grandstand finale never materialised as the league-leaders comfortably closed out the game.
If the match was good, the turn-out amongst home support was disappointing. New Milton's home contingent is always numerous and raucous but on this occasion there were a mere dozen or so souls watching a decent performance by their side. Maybe the dank, sodden conditions put them off.

The rugby, on the other hand, was always intriguing: both sides' willingness to keep the ball in hand made for an entertaining, if scrappy, game.

Will Ford is invariably the key figure for Alton and so it proved to be again. The giant number eight provided the momentum with his carries and his goal-kicking was exemplary.

Yet Alton are far more than a bash-and-crash team. Hooker Luke Parratt offered quick feet and a deftness of touch you don't often associate with a front-row grunter, and skipper Jimmy Gay is blessed with a wing's knack of finding himself in try-scoring positions. Here, Gay scored Alton's two tries and Parratt was the provider on both occasions.

On the other hand, New Milton showed they can scrummage and their rolling maul was as a potent a weapon as Alton's wasn't.

The rolling maul has provided Alton with a rich seam of tries this year, but they struggled to make much headway against a resolute, if increasingly desperate, New Milton forward pack.

Elsewhere, at times Alton were brimming with pace and energy; flat and error-prone on other occasions. They started brightly, dipped and then shone again in the final quarter of the match, when it mattered most.

When they attacked from deep they always posed a threat, but often they found themselves running up blind alleys from first and second phase ball. It didn't help that New Milton's impressive forwards began to put the squeeze on in the set scrum halfway through the first period and disrupted the Alton ball supply.

Alton opened the scoring with a third-minute penalty, only to fall behind when prop Brookes plunged over from a ruck for the game's opening try four minutes later.

However, the league-leaders were back in front in the 14th minute when centre Richard Hemmens snaffled turnover ball on the New Milton 22, stand-off Lei Alexander's delayed pass sent Parratt into a gaping hole in the defence, and the hooker slipped a simple inside pass to Gay, who scored under the posts. Simple, but sweet.

If New Milton took a disappointment away from the game, it was that, having survived a near-constant Alton first-half onslaught, they were unable to take advantage of the couple of gilt-chances chances they created.

Wing Joe Evans' searing pace repeatedly troubled Alton - his early break led to Brookes early try - but had centre Harry Halligan not knocked on 15 yards from Alton's line with two men clear outside him on the stroke of half time, the second half may have panned out differently.

As it was, Jimmy Gay stretched over for Alton's second try three minutes into the second half after Parratt's quick line-out throw surprised the home forwards. Ford's splendid touchline conversion gave his side the breathing space of a 17-5 lead and New Milton were playing catch-up.

But the hosts were in no mood to surrender and Brookes' 65th-minute try after a ten-metre rolling maul was no surprise - moments earlier they had sounded a warning when they trundled Alton back 20 metres into their own half.

However, New Milton faded, lost their shape and the Alton front-five eventually got the upper hand late in the game to such an extent that they forced another yellow card from referee Mike Gill, who got rid of New Milton flanker Sandy Lynn for pulling down a maul once too often.

Lynn's dismissal led to Ford's last-minute penalty which he banged over to   seal the win and keep Alton's slender two-point advantage at the top of the Hampshire One tree.

Alton host third-placed Eastleigh this Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm) in what promises to be one of the toughest assignments in their Hampshire One run-in.

New Milton: Carson; Evans, Halligan, Oliver, ; Geary, Lewis; Poole, Swamers, Brookes; Eastwood, Friend; Bew, Lynn, Early.
Tries: Brookes (7, 66);
Conversion: Lewis.

Alton: Law; O'Connor, Hemmens, Forsyth (Johns, 32), van Rensburg (White, 62); Alexander, Pead; Happel, Parratt, Gay (c); Greenhalgh, Osborne; Cox (Lee, 72), Carter, Ford.

Tries: Gay (14, 43);
Conversions: Ford (2);
Penalties: Ford (3, 80).

Referee: Mike Gill (Hampshire Referees).

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